On Ambidexterity and Multidexterity


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The New York Times has a story today about Don Mueller, a professor in New York who plays tennis with two racquets, one in each hand. Publicity aside, I don't think two-racquet tennis will catch on. But ambidexterity, on the other hand, can be an advantage in racquet sports. And multidexterity — being highly skilled in several racquet sports — even has its own event called Racketlon.

Mueller, a self-described mad scientist, sounds like a good athlete since he claims to be able to serve at nearly 140 miles an hour, which is Roger Federer speed. He has a website, tworacket.com.

It's against United States Tennis Association rules to play with two racquets. But switching hands is legal, and many teaching pros are as good as average club players with their off hand because they spend so much time hitting easy balls. The last ambidexterous touring pro was Luke Jensen (right), who played in the Memphis pro tournament several times and once beat Andre Agassi here. Jensen alternated serving with his right and left hand so he was always spinning the ball wide, away from his opponent.

I have heard of ambidexterous pitchers in baseball, and of course there are many switch hitters in the majors. On the local level, Gary Wilson, one of the better Memphis squash players, is ambidexterous but says he can only do gross-motor activities but not fine-motor things like handwriting with either hand.

I've always believed ambidexterity could be learned in racquet sports, just as it is in dribbling a basketball or kicking a soccer ball, if it was practiced enough. I don't know why more club tennis players with shoulder injuries or weak backhands (like me) don't learn it. If you haven't learned to hit a consistent backhand in 30 years, try Plan B.

Racketlon is a four-sport competition including tennis, squash, badminton, and ping-pong. The best players are Europeans and Asians who are strong at badminton and ping-pong. Each game is to 21 points. Former world champion tennis pro Stefan Edberg has taken it up, and although he wins his tennis matches 21-1 or 21-0, he doesn't win overall because he gets creamed in the other sports.

Surprisingly few tennis players are familiar with squash, although I guarantee you that during the U.S. Open next month you will hear John McEnroe says "that's a squash shot" several times when a player stretches wide for a forehand, comes to a stop, and hits it with a stiff arm to get behind the ball. McEnroe obviously knows his squash. The only double champion in racquet sports I am aware of is Frank Sedgman, an Australian who won major tennis and squash championships in the 1950s. Racquetball champion Cliff Swain was a very good tennis player but not world class.

I tried to organize a local Racketlon, substituting racquetball for badminton. I got a polite note from Racketlon's founder asking me to call it something else. I did, but still couldn't generate much interest. The downfall of most players is badminton or squash which are not widely played. If you get blanked 21-0 in either of those, you are too far behind to catch up in the others. I have a friend at Rhodes College, Shubho Banerjee, who I would bet on against anyone in Memphis, hands down, even though he rarely plays tennis. He's murder in the other three.

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